When Historic City News readers think of “perks”, they think of rewards paid in private businesses to executives who have earned them by exceeding profits or some other measurable goal. In government, taxpayers expect that if perks for staff and elected officials exist at all, they are limited to de minimis conveniences like a parking space closer to the building, or a key to an executive restroom.
St Augustine residents made clear their resentment of taxpayer-financed junkets to Spain for elected officials, appointed board members, and favored insiders, in the last mayoral election. Likewise, thousands of taxpayer’s dollars squandered on $195 tickets to a private fundraiser for city employees, politicians and their spouses or dates, are seen as having more to do with self-indulgence than fiscal responsibility.
At yesterday’s belated celebration of Pedro Menendez’ birthday, one city commissioner, considering a third run for office, was quoted to say she has been approached by people wondering what happened to the Noche de Gala. “I think a lot of people are missing it,” she said.
A lot of WHAT people?
It seems Commissioner Freeman, who was the beneficiary of two “free” tickets to the festivities, is of the opinion that such highbrow affairs somehow represent our city’s “cultural heritage”. Without fear of contradiction, we can safely say that, at least in St Augustine, Pedro Menendez never celebrated his birthday with such pomp and circumstance. Maybe she’s confusing the Gilded Age of Henry Flagler with the founding of our city some three centuries earlier.
It is not fair to criticize the extravagance of wealth — families like the Flaglers and the Rockefellers earned it, and they are free to do with it as they see fit. However, extravagance with other people’s money is wrong. To the extent that those “other people” are the taxpayers of the City of St Augustine, where the money was taken from the mandatory assessment of ad valorem taxes, it is unforgiveable.
Freeman probably misses the white-glove treatment she received under the Boles administration. After all, she was also the recipient of two trips to Malaga, Spain courtesy of your city government. And, another free junket to Aviles, Spain since she first took office.
Voters, the taxpaying citizens of St Augustine, have said, “enough”. If the politicians who want to be treated like royalty, elite lords and ladies of some imagined aristocracy, and pay for their indulgences with public money, we must remain vigilant to keep them from stealing the community’s checkbook.